Make sales and product meetings a win-win

Main illustration: Blake Kathryn

There are two truths about sales and product.

One, salespeople hate when deals stall because their product is missing a vital feature.

Two, product people hate building features no one uses.

A strong sales and product feedback loop avoids both scenarios. As your sales team scales and plays a larger role in representing the voice of your customers, an open line of communication aligns your product strategy with your addressable market.

What does that look like in practice? At Intercom, after much trial and error with collaboration tools, spreadsheets, email threads, etc., we’ve found the short, fortnightly meeting to be a game changer. Recently, it resulted in the launch of a popular new feature: the ability to automatically route conversations to the right team in our live chat solution:

But don’t rush into these meetings with a laundry list of feature requests (you’ll probably hear a “no”). Structure these conversations with the right people and plenty of prep work. Here’s how:

Assembling the right group

As with any cross-functional meeting, you risk having too many cooks in the kitchen. Before you start shooting invites, ask yourself a couple questions:

1. How is your sales team segmented?

If your sales team is broken up between SMB, Mid-Market and Enterprise, you might want to include one rep from each segment. This can vary depending on your situation. Does 90% of your revenue come from SMBs? Are you aggressively trying to move upmarket? Based on your answers, adjust each segment’s involvement in these meetings.

As with any cross-functional meeting, you risk having too many cooks in the kitchen.

2. Who are the most important non-sales stakeholders?

We have all relevant product owners attend. It gives them a chance to talk to sales and gain better context around specific feature requests and customer grievances. Additionally, Product can pose potential solutions and gauge their viability. Sometimes our Product Marketing Managers will join to get a better sense of what customers are saying and weave their language into our messaging.

Preparing for your meeting

Members of our sales team meet before our fortnightly sync to prioritize items we’ll address with our PMs and PMMs.

We meet for 30 minutes, open up a shared Google Doc and categorize the customer feedback we’ve received during the past two weeks. After that, we prioritize them and leave out the one-off requests.

We narrow down the feedback to 3-5 items and attach concrete examples to each one. Here are some of the data points we try to prepare for each item:

  • Name of customer (or prospect) and company
  • Job title of person giving the feedback
  • How the absence of a feature impacts their role
  • Potential revenue at risk
  • Competitors in the deal (if they offer the feature we don’t)
  • Direct quotes from the customer

Product will be more receptive to feedback from sales if you prepare these items before your meeting. They’ll approach the feedback with more empathy when they know how a lacking feature makes it hard for people to do their jobs. Also, nothing fires people up like a competitor. If you can illustrate that your competitor is winning deals based on a feature you lack, that just might be enough to get a new feature added to your product roadmap.

Running the meeting

You’ve invited your teammates to your fortnightly sync. You’ve also categorized customer feedback and prioritized it based on real data. Now that everyone’s present, it’s time to foster a purposeful discussion.

Elect someone in sales as the meeting owner. They’ll kick things off by providing a quick overview of the categories you’ve prioritized and take detailed notes, which will be shared with the broader group afterwards.

Remember, each category should be backed by data — I can’t stress this enough. Nothing makes a Product Manager roll their eyes more than feedback from sales that feels like gut instinct recommendations.

Here’s an example:

“Sarah, the head of sales Development at ExampleApp, manages a global team of 50 SDRs. They’re trying to move upmarket and need to distinguish between leads by company size. Right now, her SDRs are spending half their time chatting with SMBs, even though that segment only represents 20% of their ARR. They need to display our messenger exclusively to companies above 100 employees. Our competitor offers this and this deal is worth 30K ARR.”

Allow the product team to ask plenty of questions after each example without derailing your ability to review high-priority items.

The meeting is also a great opportunity for Product to share relevant information to sales. Specifically, we ask:

  • How did the items you discussed in your previous meeting impact the product roadmap?
  • What progress has been made?
  • What are their top priorities?

Sharing this information with sales is helpful because:

  • Sales is better equipped to set expectations with prospects regarding feature release timelines.
  • Sales will continue contributing to these meetings when they see the data they’re collecting is having a material impact.

Product and sales alignment leads to better product

The fortnightly sync has elevated the bond between sales and Product to new heights at Intercom.

Not only are PM’s choosing to play a more active role in various sales cycles, but our senior sales reps are also collecting more data-based product feedback than ever before. Additionally, we’re getting better at setting the right expectations with customers, and building things that strengthen our products’ ability to deliver on the jobs-to-be-done.